Clause 14 - Director of children's services

Children Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:00 pm ar 19 Hydref 2004.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women) 4:00, 19 Hydref 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 44, in

clause 14, page 11, line 21, leave out 'an' and insert 'a senior'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 228, in

clause 14, page 11, line 25, at end insert—

'(1A) Any appointment under subsection (1) shall be made after a process involving open competition.'.

No. 67, in

clause 14, page 12, line 11, leave out subsection (5).

No. 68, in

clause 14, page 12, line 15, leave out subsection (6).

No. 229, in

clause 14, page 12, line 19, at end insert

'which guidance may cover the process of appointment of a director of children's services.'.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women)

We rehearsed the arguments only a few moments ago, under clause 10, regarding the concern that my colleagues and I have that there should be an adequate structure to support the intention that the buck stops here. Any person who is given the heavy responsibility that we are placing on a person in this context should be a senior officer. Under the amendment, a children's services authority in England

''may, and with effect from the appointed day must, appoint a senior officer'' for the after-mentioned purposes. Having rehearsed the argument under clause 10, I will not take up the Committee's time by repeating it.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

I want to speak to amendments Nos. 67 and 68. We are embarking on a process of massive cultural change. We are looking to local authorities to transform children's lives by centring their services on children's needs; listening to children effectively; building their services around children and families; breaking down the barriers between organisations, institutions and professions; and developing a common core of practice with children. I simply do not believe that someone who takes on the responsibilities of a director of children's services can be expected to

have any other role. I would distrust the motives of some colleagues in local government who would want to urge that on my right hon. Friend.

I have great respect for local authorities—I worked for one for 15 years and was a councillor in another for 10—but they can be part of the problem, and part of the past from which we want to move; they can be one of the major institutions that we want to change. I do not see how they can expect someone who has other responsibilities to do the job properly. I would prefer local authorities that sought to appoint a director of children's services to take on other aspects of the work, and would question both the seriousness with which they approach the task and the degree to which they actually want to change.

I was with colleagues one night last week when we met representatives of primary care trusts, which we would all acknowledge as key players. We talked to chief executives and chairs of primary care trusts, some of whom had been involved in the children's trust pilot. I ended up defending local education authorities, which was quite an unusual position for me. The distrust and scepticism, nay cynicism, around the table that those key partners—experienced, professional people who want to do an excellent job for children—had about the role and culture of local education authorities was evident. Their suspicions about the possibility, nay probability, of children's services directors coming directly from local education authorities and bringing that cultural background into a service that needs to build participation and integration, centre it on children and families and perhaps move a long way from the goals and responsibilities that the typical LEA has had, was instructive.

I see no reason for subsections (5) and (6) and hope that they can be deleted.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I agree with the phrase used by the hon. Gentleman: we are talking about a massive cultural change. I endorse his view that a director of education is not necessarily the appropriate person to take on the responsibilities in question. I am sorry that that the social work profession appears to be so suspicious of the education establishment. I share that suspicion, but if the hon. Gentleman's remarks may be taken as evidence, it appears that those concerned especially lack confidence.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre 4:15, 19 Hydref 2004

Just to clarify, the people concerned were health professionals.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Thank you.

In the interests of not having a clause stand part debate, perhaps I may go slightly outside the amendment. I am concerned that the children's social services role, as an advocate for children, may be diminished by being subsumed into the children's services role, which is dominated by education. An example is children with special educational needs. The education service may be constrained by budgets and concerned to devolve as much as it can to schools, whereas a social worker may recognise that the

individual needs of such a child are not being met, and may in the past have been an advocate for them, right up to the level of director of social services against director of education. I fear that we might lose that type of service as a result of creating unified departments. It would of course be nice if everyone had regard to the needs of each child, but there are, as the Minister knows, considerable competing demands on local education authorities, for example to devolve money to schools.

That said, I do not share the hon. Gentleman's view that allowing LEAs to appoint a director of children's services who has other responsibilities would be dangerous. After all, there are some very small LEAs; mine is small and there are many smaller. I suspect that it would be unreasonable to expect the City of London corporation or the Council of the Isles of Scilly, for example, to appoint a head of children's services who has no other responsibilities. Indeed, it may be appropriate in certain circumstances for a chief executive also to be appointed the director of children's services, so although the hon. Gentleman has developed an interesting aspect of the debate, I am not willing to support his amendments.

Instead, I draw the Minister's attention to amendments Nos. 228 and 229, which would require the director of children's services to be appointed by a process of ''open competition'' and not merely slipped into the post because that was the most convenient thing to do with a director that the local authority already had. Again, I know it is dangerous to be anecdotal and even more dangerous to legislate according to what happens in one or two London boroughs, and I am sure the Minister does not want to legislate as a result of what happens on the Isle of Wight, but I just want to tell her how my local director of children's services was appointed. He was appointed without public advertisement and without competition from among the four existing directors. He was the director of education. How did he get that job? He was appointed without public advertisement and without open competition from among people within the authority who chose to apply for that job, having been at the time the deputy director of education. Before I say how he got that job, let me explain that I was told by the leader of the council that it was her intention when she appointed him deputy director of education that he should become director of education. How did he get the job of deputy director? He was appointed without open advertisement and without open competition from I know not where; I know that he was a head teacher in my constituency.

That is not an appropriate way to appoint to any of those jobs and certainly not to a job of the importance and magnitude that we are discussing. It may be felt that I am making a political point against the Liberal Democrats who lead my local authority. I am not alone in doing that: the chairman of the early years and child care development partnership resigned because she felt that the massive cultural change that was necessary to implement the Bill could not be achieved

when someone who happened to be available in another job was simply slipped in. This is nothing personal against the officer, although it is certainly a criticism of the local authority. Will the Minister insist that officers of this importance be appointed through a proper and open process that gets the best man for the job?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

I shall not hold hon. Members up because I know that we want to make progress, but it is an irony of this Committee that many contributions from Opposition Members—certainly the Conservatives, and to some extent the Liberal Democrats—have tended to show a centralist strand of thinking, whereas we are the great decentralisers on this. They are the Stalinists, we are new Labour decentralisers. That is particularly interesting in the context of exchanges in the Chamber, in which we are often accused of centralising. All these amendments are about not trusting local authorities and not allowing them to get on with the job and the general duties that we have set them. That is why I hope that none of them will be pressed.

I turn first to the points made by the hon. Member for Epping Forest on seniority. The reality is that the post will be politically restricted—the relevant provisions are at schedule 2(3). That gives the position some seniority. In defining the post, we are using a similar formulation to that used for directors of social services in section 6 of the Local Authority and Social Services Act 1970, which refers to the appointment of ''an officer''. We should trust local authorities to make appropriate appointments of directors of children's services, taking account of local circumstances and the demands of the job. I do not believe that we should tell local authorities what to do, or that they will appoint people who lack the necessary seniority for what is one of the most crucial local government jobs that we have established in a long time, and which is broadly welcomed.

On amendments Nos. 228 and 299, on open competition, again, I do not want to tell local authorities how to take account of their local circumstances in determining who is appropriate to fill the post. Several authorities have appointed from their existing officer cohort, and many of those are the authorities at the leading edge of developing just that cultural change that we all think is so important. One of the unintended consequences of the amendments would be that those people would all have to apply for their job, and we would force open recruitment. That would provide instability just at the time when we want those people to get on with implementing the radical changes and transformation that we are after.

I turn to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre and say, similarly, that we want innovation and flexibility in what the provision means for services on the ground. To give my local authority as an example, our director of social services happens also to be the director of the primary care trust. That was a rather good synergy in trying to respond more appropriately in that case not just on children's services but on services for adults across boundaries. All sorts of innovations of that nature

might take place. Consider leisure and libraries, and how all that can impact on children's lives. We should not here distort, or try to control or dictate, and prevent that innovation from happening on the ground.

The duties of the post are clear, as is its importance. We are laying that out in the Bill, but we should allow flexibility at local level for people to do what is best for them. On that basis, I ask hon. Members not to press their amendments.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Shadow Minister (Women)

I am entirely reassured by what the Minister has said, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 105, in

clause 14, page 11, line 31, at end insert

'including ensuring that one member of senior management includes, within his/her responsibilities, overall responsibility for social services for deafblind children (such as assessments by suitably qualified people and access to specifically trained, one-to-one support workers for children assessed as requiring them)'.

I rather hope that the Minister has just put away her last sheet of notes, because I fear that she may have something prepared for this amendment. However, if I preface my remarks by saying that I am speaking on behalf of Sense, the deaf-blind charity, I hope that she will be a little more charitable towards an amendment that I can see could be accused of being centralist.

The rationale behind the amendment is that the Department of Health issued statutory guidance in 2001 about social services for deaf and blind children and adults which required local authorities to nominate a senior manager responsible for deaf-blind services. The Bill passes responsibility for various guidance issued under the local authority social services legislation to the new directors of children's services. The charity tells me that it is aware of many social services departments that are not delivering the specialist services, assessments and one-to-one support to which deaf-blind children are entitled under the existing guidance, hence the suggestion that a member of senior management should be given a specific responsibility in that respect. However, rather than accepting a centralist proposal, the Minister may be able to make a statement that would help the deaf-blind charity to support children in those difficult circumstances.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

I worked with Sense when I had responsibility for disability issues. It does a lot of powerful work on behalf of children and adults who have to overcome considerable barriers to be able to participate fully in society. The amendment is centralist, but perhaps I can comfort the hon. Lady by telling her that there is a set of accountabilities in the way that we will measure children's services authorities and how they deliver services for children. Whether through the inspection framework or the indicators that we determine, that framework of accountability will allow us to identify authorities that are not carrying out their statutory duties, or not abiding by the circulars that have been issued to them. I hope that as the hon. Lady can now take comfort in

viewing the matter as part of the accountability framework, rather than a centralist duty prescribed by us in Parliament, she will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister for her remarks. Specialists working in the field just want to ensure that they are in the best possible position to help children to access services. Fortunately, only a small minority are involved, but they are in a very difficult situation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

I beg to move amendment No. 136, in

clause 14, page 11, line 34, after '9', insert

'and (children and young people's plans: England)'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment No. 153.

Government new clause 20—Children and young people's plans: England.

Margaret Hodge: The Whip will not like it, but I must give members of the Committee proper information about the amendments, which are about the planning of services, an important aspect of the delivery of outcomes for children and young people.

If we are to have good local planning practice across all services for children and young people, planning by local authorities needs to join up with that of other key partners involved in the agenda for children and young people. To help local authorities to operate more effectively in delivering the outcomes for children and to reduce the bureaucracy for them, the new clause and the amendments propose to rationalise planning by repealing the requirements for seven separate statutory plans. They were introduced for a good reason, but they do not now add up to a coherent package, nor do they allow for sufficient local flexibility. We are also ending the requirements for a range of non-statutory plans for the same reasons. That is the context in which we are introducing a single statutory requirement—a strategic children and young people's plan. It is a new provision, but behind it are our three years of consultation with local authorities and the key organisations involved nationally in plan rationalisation.

We started with a project in 2001 working with five local education authorities implementing local education strategies. Encouraged by our evaluation of that project we moved to the notion of a single education plan, which received a very positive response from those authorities. We want to drive that reform further and extend that well-supported approach to the whole range of children's services. We therefore developed the concept of a children and young people's plan, taking account of the proposals for improving services to children and young people which were in our Green Paper and are reflected in the Bill.

We have responded positively to Opposition amendments in another place which sought a statutory plan for services for children and young people. We have talked across Government to the Office of the

Deputy Prime Minister, the Department of Health and the Home Office, and we have talked to the Local Government Association. We have talked to the voluntary sector, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. We have talked to the Churches and to the Learning and Skills Council. In short, we have consulted widely.

We intend the children and young people's plan to cover local authority services for children, and to that end we are making it the responsibility of the director of children's services. Amendment No. 136 therefore provides that the director is appointed and that the lead member for children's services, who will be designated under clause 15, will be responsible for developing and implementing the children and young people's plan.

This is a strategic plan that will create a bridge between the authority's corporate plans and its more detailed plans at service level. Providing a vital planning element, it will help to improve the integration of children's services. It is only right that the officer and elected member accountable for those services should be responsible for the plan.

The core requirement for the plan relates to local authority services for children and young people, but the involvement of other local partners is of fundamental importance. We hope that the plan will link to plans for health services, youth justice, voluntary and community services, Connexions and drugs action for children and young people. Not only do all those plans have to be consistent, but I hope that there will be joint planning. The needs of children and young people must be met holistically. The duty to co-operate in clause 7 is intended to include a duty to plan. Joint planning to improve the well-being of children and young people is a fundamental expression of co-operation.

The children and young people's plan will be not only strategic but overarching; it will cover the full range of children's services. It will link upwards to corporate plans and downwards to operational plans. Authorities will still need to plan their services in detail, even though many of the requirements for submission to central Government have been removed. We intend that the plans will determine the outcomes to be achieved for services for children and young people, and the time scale for delivery in the context of the local programmes of change. They should also offer a strategic analysis of issues and set out actions that need to be taken towards the delivery of the five outcomes.

This will be a three-year plan, in place in all relevant authorities by April 2006. Those authorities categorised as excellent under the comprehensive performance assessment have a planning freedom that means that they will not need to submit a plan. The plan will be prepared and implemented in consultation with key partners. It will be publicly available, and it will be reviewed by the authority every year.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre 4:30, 19 Hydref 2004

Will my right hon. Friend tell me how she envisages young people being able to participate in the development of the plan?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

That will be integral to the involvement of young people in the development, planning, commissioning and delivery of all services in their area. That is implicit in many of the duties in the Bill.

We will specify the detail in regulations, and because we have not been able to share with hon. Members the draft regulations, we have made available a short paper, which I hope all members of the Committee have received.

To reassure hon. Members that we have not thrown the centralist levers to ensure that we achieve cultural change, I say the following: the basis of the plan reassures local partners, many of whom, particularly the voluntary sector, were worried that they might be left out of the planning process. It gives added impetus to co-operation and joint working.

An amendment to clause 19 will ensure that the children and young people's plan is taken into account in the inspection of children's services and, in particular, in the joint area review. We have appointed children's services advisers, who will be talking to authorities about their planning, and supporting them in it. They will influence the development of the plan.

Amendment No. 153 allows the preparation of a children and young people's plan to be included, as appropriate, in any direction that the Department may issue when it is intervening as a result of poor performance. Once good practice in planning is embedded, we will then consider whether a statutory requirement is still necessary. First, however, we must concentrate on ensuring good practice in planning across the whole of the children's agenda.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 111, in

clause 14, page 12, line 19, at end insert—

'(7A) A children's service authority in England must ensure that the performance of its functions are supported with ongoing annual programmes of training.'.

I imagine that I am again at risk of being accused of being centrist. Throughout our discussions with the professionals, including some of the trailblazers, they reported that the most important part of the process was participating in training sessions. Sadly, we know that although money is often provided in the first few years of a project, it then tails away. I am pleased that every local authority in the country currently has money for training programmes.

My concern is about what will happen to the training once the original money runs out. I know from my own long background in local government that training is often cut when money is tight. If we really want ongoing improvement in the services for our children, with all agencies working together, the necessity of ongoing training is difficult to argue against. The question is whether that should be addressed in the Bill. We should bear it in mind that clause 9, which I had hoped to discuss before this

clause, includes many aspects that would not normally be seen in a Bill. I have had a discussion with the Minister on that very point.

My argument is that training can be dealt with in the Bill because the cultural change will take a long time to complete. We would be burying our heads in the sand if we thought that it would be sorted out in a couple of years. In one form or another, the necessity for training should be addressed in the Bill.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

Training is crucial; it is central to cultural change. We do not need a reference to it in the Bill, but we will emphasise its importance in our guidance and support to local authorities. We do not need the burden of legislation. We will expect training programmes to be part of the children and young people's plan that we have just talked about, and we are putting together guidance on the role of the director of children's services, which we will share with the hon. Lady. The 150 local change programmes that we are mounting will be supported by advisers, and training will be part of that. We are also developing common core training so that all members of the children's work force share a language and understanding, and can therefore work together.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister for her response. It would have been helpful to see more of the draft regulations and guidance, but I am reassured by her saying that training will be included. From our point of view, we do not think that any amount of database or computing expertise will be sufficient unless we have training all the way through the children's services. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.